(LifeSiteNews) — We will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:12) The Church today has the same desire as the Apostle thus expressed to the first Christians. The truth concerning the dead not only proves admirably the union between God’s justice and His goodness; it also inspires a charitable pity which the hardest heart cannot resist, and at the same time offers to the mourners the sweetest consolation.
If faith teaches us the existence of a purgatory, where our loved ones may be detained by unexpiated sin, it is also of faith that we are able to assist them; and theology assures us that their more or less speedy deliverance lies in our power. Let us call to mind a few principles, which throw light on this doctrine.
Every sin causes a twofold injury to the sinner: it stains his soul, and renders him liable to punishment. Venial sin, which displeases God, requires a temporal expiation. Mortal sin deforms the soul, and makes the guilty man an abomination to God: its punishment cannot be anything less than eternal banishment, unless the sinner, in this life, prevent the final and irrevocable sentence. But even then the remission of the guilt, though it revokes the sentence of damnation, does not cancel the whole debt. Although an extraordinary overflow of grace upon the prodigal may sometimes, as is always the case with regard to baptism and martyrdom, bury every remnant and vestige of sin in the abyss of divine oblivion; yet it is the ordinary rule that for every fault, satisfaction must be made to God’s justice, either in this world or in the next.
On the other hand, every supernatural act of virtue brings a double profit to the just man: it merits for his soul a fresh degree of grace; and it makes satisfaction for past faults, in exact proportion to the value, in God’s sight, of that labor, privation, or trial accepted, or that voluntary suffering endured, by one of the members of His beloved Son. Now, whereas merit is a personal acquisition and cannot be transferred to others, satisfaction may be vicarious; God is willing to accept it in payment of another’s debt, whether the recipient of the boon be in this world or in the next, provided only that he be united by grace to the mystical body of our Lord, which is one in charity. This is a consequence of the mystery of the communion of saints, as Suarez explains in his beautiful treatise on Suffrages. Appealing to the authority of the greatest and most ancient princes of science, and discussing the objections and restrictions since proposed by others, the illustrious theologian does not hesitate to formulate this conclusion, with regard to the suffering souls in particular:
I believe that this satisfaction of the living for the dead is a matter of simple justice, and that it is infallibly accepted with its full value, and according to the intention of him who applies it. Thus, for instance, if the satisfaction I make would, if kept for myself, avail me in strict justice for the remission of four degrees of purgatory, it will remit exactly the same amount to the soul for whom I choose to offer it.
We well know how the Church seconds the good-will of her children. By the practice of indulgences, she places at their charitable disposal the inexhaustible treasure accumulated, from age to age, by the superabundant satisfactions of the saints, added to those of the martyrs, and united to those of Our Blessed Lady and the infinite residue of Our Lord’s sufferings. These remissions of punishment she grants to the living by her own direct power; but she nearly always approves of and permits their application to the dead by way of suffrage, that is to say, in the manner in which, as we have seen, each of the faithful may offer to God who accepts it, for another, the suffrage or succor of his own satisfactions. Such is the doctrine of Suarez, who adds that an indulgence ceded to the dead loses nothing either of the security or of the value it would have had for ourselves who are still militant.
Now, indulgences under every form are continually coming in our way. Let us make use of our treasures, and exercise mercy towards the poor suffering souls. Is any condition more pitiable than theirs? So great is their anguish that no distress on earth can approach to it; and withal so nobly endured, that not a murmur breaks the silence of that “river of fire, which in its imperceptible current bears them on little by little to the ocean of Paradise.”
All heaven cannot help them, for there is no merit to be gained there. God Himself, though most merciful, owes it to His justice not to deliver them until they have paid the whole debt that they carried with them beyond the world of trial. The debt was contracted perhaps through our fault, and in our company; and it is to us they turn for help, to us who are still dreaming of nothing but pleasure, while they are burning, and we could so easily shorten their torments! Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me. (Job 19:21)
Whether it be that Purgatory is now more than ever overflowing with the multitudes daily sent thither through the worldliness of the age, or that the last and universal judgment is approaching – the Holy Ghost is no longer satisfied with keeping up the zeal of ancient confraternities devoted to the service of the departed. He raises up new associations, and even religious families, whose one aim is to promote, by every possible means, the deliverance or the solace of the suffering souls. In this kind of redemption of captives there are likewise to be found Christians, who at their own risk offer to take upon themselves the chains of their brethren, by utterly foregoing, for this purpose, not only all their own satisfactions, but even the suffrages which may be offered for them after death: a heroic act of charity which must not be lightly undertaken, but which the Church approves; for it greatly glorifies Our Lord, and in return for the risk incurred of a temporary delay of beatitude, merits for its author a greater nearness to God, both by grace here below, and in glory in heaven. If the suffrages of the simple faithful are of such value, of how much more are those of the whole Church, in the solemnity of public prayer, and the oblation of the awful sacrifice, wherein God Himself makes satisfaction to God for every sin? From the very beginning the Church has always prayed for the dead, as did even the synagogue before her. (2 Machabees 12:46)
As she honored with thanksgiving the anniversaries of her martyred sons, so she celebrated with supplications the memory of her other children, who might not yet be in heaven. In the sacred mysteries she daily uttered the names of both, for this twofold purpose of praise and prayer. As in each particular church it was impossible to name all the blessed of the entire world, a common mention was made of them all; and in like manner, after the recommendations peculiar to each place and day, a general commemoration was made of all the dead. Thus, as St. Augustine remarks, those who had no relatives and friends on earth were henceforth not deprived of suffrages; for to make up for their abandonment, they had the tender compassion of the common mother.
The Church having always followed the same method with regard to the commemoration of the blessed and that of the departed, it might be expected that the establishment of All Saints’ feast in the ninth century would soon lead to the solemn commemoration of All Souls. In 998, according to the Chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux, St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, instituted it in all the monasteries under his crosier to be celebrated in perpetuity on the morrow of All Saints’. In certain visions, recorded in his life, Odilo and his monks had been denounced by the demons as the most indefatigable helpers of the holy souls, and most formidable to the powers of hell; and this institution was the saint’s retaliation. The world applauded the decree; Rome adopted it, and it became the law of the whole Latin Church.
The Greeks made a general commemoration of the dead on the eve of our Sexagesima Sunday, which with them is called Apocreos or Carnival, and on which they celebrate the second coming of Our Lord. They give the name of “Saturday of all souls” to this day, as well as to the eve of Pentecost, when they again pray solemnly for the departed.
MASS OF THE DEAD
Today the Roman Church doubles her task of daily service to the divine majesty. The commemoration of the dead does not distract her from the saints. The Office of the second day within the Octave preceded the Dirge; Tierce of All Saints has been followed by the corresponding Mass; and it is after None of the same Office that the holy sacrifice is offered for the faithful departed.
On account of this increase, and her solicitude to maintain the harmony she has established between the two liturgical objects of this day, Rome has never countenanced the extension of a privilege existing in Spain, which allows each priest to offer three Masses for the dead. For a long period Rome alone, with a few churches that kept the most closely to her, recited the Office of All Saints on the second of November. Most of the Western churches said only that of the Dead. At the day Hours, as well as at Matins and Lauds, the Hymn and the Deus in adjutorium were suppressed; the ordinary Psalms were concluded with Requiem æternam; and the Collect for thedead was said at the close, as is still the custom among the Friars Preachers.
The one Solemn Mass, that of the dead, was celebrated after Tierce. This commemoration of the faithful departed usually ended at None; the Cluny maintained, up to the 18th century, the custom of celebrating second Vespers.
As to the obligation of resting from servile works on All Souls’ Day, it was of semi-precept in England, the more necessary works being permitted; in some places the obligation lasted only till midday; in others assistance at Mass was alone enjoined. For some time, Paris kept the 2nd of November as a feast of obligation; in 1673 the command to observe it until midday was retained in the statutes by the Archbishop Francis de Harlay. The precept no longer exists, even at Rome.
The remark of Amalarius, quoted above with regard to the Office of the dead, is no less applicable to the Mass. Not to mention the suppression of the Gloria in excelsis and of the Alleluia, the priest omits the Psalm Judica me at the foot of the altar, as in Passiontide. As on Good Friday, he is clothed in black vestments; most of the blessings are omitted, as also the kiss of peace, and the various marks of honor shown to the celebrant; the altar is thurified but once; and the singing of the Gospel is done as on that great day, viz: the deacon receives no blessing from the celebrant, lights and incense are not used, and the priest does not kiss the sacred text. So closely, even in death, does the Church draw her children to Him whose members they are.
The Introit Antiphon is the same earnest supplication, which takes the place of every doxology throughout the Office, and which was suggested by a passage in the fourth Book of Esdras (2 Esdras 2:34-37). The Verse is taken from the second Psalm of Lauds.
Eternal rest give to them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Ps. A hymn, O God, becometh thee in Sion; and a vow shall be paid to thee in Jerusalem: O Lord, hear my prayer; all flesh shall come to thee. Eternal rest, etc.
In the Collect, Mother Church makes her own the prayer of the suffering souls; she presents it to her Spouse, God made man, calling Him by His titles of Creator and Redeemer; for these titles remind Him of all He has done for these souls, and invite Him to perfect His work.
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful, give to the souls of thy servants, men and women, the remission of all their sins; that by pious supplications they may obtain the pardon which they have always desired. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul, the Apostle, to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
Brethren, behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
While the soul is supplying in Purgatory for the insufficiency of her expiations, the body she has quitted returns to the earth in virtue of the sentence pronounced against Adam and his race from the beginning of the world. But with regard to the body as well as the soul, justice is full of love; its claims are a prelude to the glory which awaits the whole man. The humiliation of the tomb is the just punishment of original sin; but in this return of man to the earth whence he sprang, St. Paul would have us recognize the sowing necessary for the transformation of the seed, which is destined to live again under very different conditions. For flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God; (1 Corinthians 15:50) neither can corruptible members aspire to immortality.
The body of the Christian, which St. Ignatius of Antioch calls the wheat of Christ, is cast into the tomb, as it were into the furrow, there to leave its own corruption, the form of the first Adam with its heaviness and infirmity; but by the power of the new Adam reforming it to his own likeness, it shall spring up all heavenly and spiritualized, agile, impassible, and glorious. Blessed be he who willed to die for us in order to destroy death, and to make his own victory ours!
In the Gradual, the Church continues to pray for the deliverance of the departed souls.
Eternal rest give to them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them.
℣. The just shall be in everlasting remembrance; he shall not fear the evil hearing.
Absolve, O Lord, the souls of all the faithful departed from every bond of sins.
℣. And by the help of thy grace may they be enabled to escape the judgment of punishment.
℣. And enjoy the happiness of light eternal.
The Church, as we shall see, did not formerly exclude from the funerals of her children the joyful Alleluia; it expressed the happiness she felt at the thought that a holy death had secured heaven to the new elect, although his expiation might not yet be completed. But the adaptation of the liturgy for the dead to the rites of Holy Week having altered this ancient custom, it would seem that the Sequence, originally a festive sequel to the Alleluia, ought also to be excluded from the Requiem Mass.
Rome, however, has made a welcome exception to the traditional rule, in favor of the remarkable poem of Thomas de Celano. This and the Stabat Mater of Fra Jacopone have won renown for the Franciscan lyre. The Dies iræ was first sung in Italy in the fourteenth century; and in two centuries more it had spread to the entire Church.
The day of wrath, that awful day, shall reduce the world to ashes, as David and the Sibyl prophesied.*
How great will be the terror, when the Judge shall come to examine all things rigorously!
The trumpet, with astounding blast, echoing over the sepulchers of the whole world, shall summon all before the throne.
Death and nature will stand aghast, when the creature shall rise again, to answer before his Judge.
The written book shall be brought forth, containing all for which the world must be judged.
When, therefore, the Judge shall be seated, whatsoever is hidden shall be brought to light; nought shall remain unpunished.
What then shall I, unhappy man, allege? Whom shall I invoke as protector? when even the just shall hardly be secure.
O King of awful majesty, who of thy free gift savest them that are to be saved, save me, O fount of mercy!
Remember, O loving Jesus, ’twas for my sake thou camest on earth: let me not, then, be lost on that day.
Seeking me thou satest weary; thou redeemedst me by dying on the Cross: let not such suffering be all in vain.
O righteous Awarder of punishment, grant me the gift of pardon before the reckoning-day.
I groan as one guilty, while I blush for my sins: oh! spare thy suppliant, my God!
Thou didst absolve Mary Magdalen, and didst hear the prayer of the thief: to me, then, thou hast also given hope.
My prayers deserve not to be heard; but thou art good: grant, in thy kindness, that I may not burn in the unquenchable fire.
Give me a place among thy sheep, separating me from the goats and setting me on thy right hand.
When the reprobate, covered with confusion, shall have been sentenced to the cruel flames, call me with the blessed.
Prostrate in supplication I implore thee, with a heart contrite as though crushed to ashes; oh! have a care of my last hour!
A mournful day that day shall be, when from the dust shall arise
Guilty man, that he may be judged; spare him, then, O God!
O tender Lord Jesus, give them eternal rest. Amen.
*(An allusion to the celebrated oracle of the Erythraean Sibyl, quoted by St. Augustine in his ‘City of God’, Book XVIII, Chap 23. The initial letters of the verses give in Greek the formula: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.)
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. John (John 5:19-29)
At that time Jesus said to the multitudes of the Jews, Amen, amen, I say unto you, the Son cannot do anything of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doth, these the Son also doth in like manner. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things which himself doth: and greater works than these will he shew him, that you may wonder. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and giveth life: so the Son also giveth life to whom he will. For neither doth the Father judge any man, but hath given all judgment to the Son. That all men may honor the Son, as they honor the Father. He who honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father, who hath sent him. Amen, amen I say unto you, that he who heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath life everlasting; and cometh not into judgment, but is passed from death to life. Amen, amen I say unto you, that the hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so he hath given the Son also to have life in himself: And he hath given him power to do judgment, because he is the Son of man. Wonder not at this; for the hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things, shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.
Purgatory is not eternal. Its duration varies according to the sentence pronounced at each particular judgment. It may be prolonged for centuries in the case of the more guilty souls, or of those who, being excluded from the Catholic communion, are deprived of the suffrages of the Church, although by the divine mercy they have escaped hell. But the end of the world, which will be also the end of time, will close forever the place of temporary expiation. God will know how to reconcile His justice and His goodness in the purification of the last members of the human race, and to supply by the intensity of the expiatory suffering what may be wanting in duration.
But whereas a favorable sentence at the particular judgment admits of eternal beatitude being suspended and postponed, and leaves the bodies of the elect to the same fate as those of the reprobate, at the universal judgment, every sentence, whether for heaven or for hell, will be absolute, and will be executed immediately and completely. Let us, then, live in expectation of the solemn hour when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God. (John 5:25) He that is to come will come and will not delay, as the Doctor of the Gentiles reminds us; His arrival will be sudden, as that of a thief, we are told, not only by St. Paul, but also by the Prince of the Apostles and the Beloved Disciple; and these in turn are but echoing the words of our Lord Himself: As lightning cometh out of the East and appeareth even unto the West: so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:27)
Let us enter into the sentiments contained in the beautiful Offertory. Although the poor suffering souls are sure of their eternal blessedness, yet they entered upon this road to heaven at a moment of utmost peril: the supreme effort of the devil in his last assault, and the agony of the judgment. The Church, therefore, extending her prayer to every stage of this painful way, does not forget its opening. Nor is she afraid of being too late; for to God, who sees all times at one glance, this day’s supplication was present at the moment of the dread passage, and obtained assistance for the straitened souls. This same prayer follows them also in their struggles with the powers of hell, when God permits these, according to the revelations of the saints, to be the ministers of His justice in the place of expiation.
At this solemn moment, when the Church is offering her gifts for the tremendous and all-powerful sacrifice, let us redouble our prayers for the faithful departed. Let us implore their deliverance from the jaws of the infernal lion. Let us obtain from the glorious archangel, whom God has set over paradise and appointed to lead souls thither, (Ant. et Resp. in festo S. Michaelis) that he would bear them up to the light, to life, to God, who is Himself the reward promised to all believers in the person of their father Abraham.
O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, delivery the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the deep pit: deliver them from the mouth of the lion, that hell may not swallow them up, and they may not fall into darkness, but may the holy standard-bearer Michael introduce them to the holy light; * Which thou didst promise of old to Abraham and to his seed.
℣. We offer to thee, O Lord, sacrifices and prayers: do thou receive them in behalf of those souls whom we commemorate this day. Grant them, O Lord, to pass from death to life; * Which thou didst promise of old to Abraham and to his seed.
The holy souls had the gift of faith, and did the works of faith, while on earth; their eternal reward is therefore secured, and God mercifully accepts the offerings we make for them, as the Secret implies.
Mercifully look down upon this sacrifice which we offer to thee for the souls of thy servants, O Lord, we beseech thee; that to those to whom thou didst grant the merit of Christian faith thou mayest also grant its reward. Through our Lord.
At the Agnus Dei, instead of asking as usual for peace for the living, we pray that the dead may have eternal rest.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, give them rest.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, give them rest.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, give them eternal rest.
Like myriad silent snowflakes falling earthward on a winter’s day, the delivered souls, white and lovely, are mounting heavenward at this hour, when the Church, the whole world over, concluding her long supplications, pours over the expiatory flames the sacred blood of redemption. Strong in the power given to our prayer by our participation in the divine mysteries, let us say with her in the Communion Antiphon:
May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord: * With thy saints forever, because thou art merciful.
℣. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. * With thy saints.
Such, however, is the impenetrable and adorable mystery of God’s justice, which baffles all human conception, that for some souls the expiation must still be prolonged. The Church, then, without growing weary or losing hope, prolongs her prayer also in the Postcommunion. Moreover, at every Hour of the daily Divine Office, and at every Mass offered throughout the year, the faithful departed are remembered by their mother.
We beseech thee, O Lord, that the prayer of thy suppliants may benefit the souls of thy servants; that thou mayest deliver them from all their sins, and make them partakers of thy redemption. Who livest, etc.
In Masses in which the Gloria in excelsis is omitted, Benedicamus Domino is said instead of Ite missa est, but in Masses for the dead the following petition is substituted.
May they rest in peace.
After Mass, the clergy preceded by the Cross range themselves round the catafalque, which is placed in the nave of the church, to represent the dead, at the very spot where their bodies once rested before the altar of God. The cantors intone the ninth Responsory of Matins; it is followed by the Prayers said at the conclusion of the Office, during the singing of which the priest honors the dead with holy water and incense, as on each one’s funeral day. This rite is called Absolution from the Prayer Absolve, the one most frequently used, although, as today, the Collect of the Mass may be chosen instead, or some other Prayer according to circumstances.
Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death, in that dreadful day, * when the heavens and earth are to be moved, * when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
℣. I tremble and do fear, when the examination is to be, and thy wrath to come. * When the heavens and the earth are to be moved.
℣. That day is the day of anger, of calamity, and of misery, a great day, and very bitter, * when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
℣. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them.
℣. Deliver me, as far as the first.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Christ have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Our Father, the rest in secret.
℣. And lead us not into temptation.
℟. But deliver us from evil.
℣. From the gate of hell.
℟. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
℣. May they rest in peace.
℣. O Lord, hear my prayer.
℟. And let my cry come unto thee.
℣. The Lord be with you.
℟. And with thy spirit.
Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, the souls of thy servants from every chain of sin: that rising again in the glory of thy resurrection, they may enjoy a new life amongst thy saints and the elect. Through Christ our Lord.
℣. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord.
℟. And let perpetual light shine on them.
℣. May they rest in peace.
The Missal of Marmoutier offers us the following Sequence wherewith to honor the saints, whose Octave is celebrated side by side with the commemoration of the dead.
That we with equal zeal may tread the footprints of the Saints, the Church proposes to our contemplation their life and actions.
She offers us the rose, the violet, and the lily; emblems of the triple way leading to the heavenly reward.
The rose by its ruby color signifies the Martyrs; the violet’s purple flower the Confessors.
The lily proclaims the lover of Virginity: by these three ways, then, must we follow our God.
Let true patience make us suffer as Martyrs; and by continual abstinence let us be Confessors.
May constant purity preserve us Virgins; but if any have fallen, courageous continence will save them.
May the Saints, whose feast we celebrate, come to our assistance; that by their intercession we may be enabled to attain the heights of heaven. Amen.